Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Melospiza melodia
Population size
130 mln
Life Span
11 yrs
12-53 g
11-18 cm
18-25 cm

The Song sparrow is one of the most abundant, variable, and adaptable native sparrows in North America. Adult birds have brown upperparts with dark streaks on the back and are white underneath with dark streaking and a dark brown spot in the middle of the breast. They have a brown cap and a long brown rounded tail. Their face is gray with a brown streak through each eye.


Song sparrows occur across most of Canada and the United States. Populations of the southern half of their range are non-migratory, but birds from the northern area migrate during winter to the southern United States or Mexico. Song sparrows favor shrubby areas especially near streams and rivers, grasslands, forest edges, fields, beaches, marshes, including salt marshes, and lake edges. They can also be found in gardens and suburban areas.

Song Sparrow habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Song sparrows are generally solitary and highly territorial; during winter and migration, however, they gather in loose flocks. Male use a fairly complex song to declare ownership of their territory and attract females. Singing itself consists of a combination of repeated notes, quickly passing isolated notes, and trills. The songs are very crisp, clear, and precise, making them easily distinguishable by human ears. Song sparrows are active during the day spending most of their time foraging. They feed by walking or hopping on the ground, in shrubs or in very shallow water. They also perform short flights between perches or to cover, pumping their tail downward in flight.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Song sparrows are carnivores (insectivores) and herbivores (granivores, frugivores). They mainly eat insects, seeds, and fruits. Birds in salt marshes may also eat small crustaceans.

Mating Habits

13-15 days
1 month
3-5 eggs

Song sparrows are monogamous and form pairs, however, some birds may exhibit polygynous behavior in which one male mate with several females. They breed from April through August. Males arrive on the breeding grounds earlier than females and establish territories. After the pair was formed the female starts to construct the nest. It is an open cup, made of grasses, stems, leaves, and bark chips, usually lined with fine grasses, rootlets, and hair. Song sparrows nest either in a sheltered location on the ground or in trees or shrubs. The female lay 3 to 5 brown with greenish-white spots eggs per clutch and incubates them for 13-15 days. Chicks hatch helpless, blind, and naked. They leave the nest about 10 days after hatching and become independent from their parents 3 weeks later. At the age of 1 year, young Song sparrows will start to form pairs and breed.


Population threats

As a whole, Song sparrows are widespread and common throughout their range, however, some populations are threatened by habitat loss, especially in coastal marshes.

Population number

According to Partners in Flight resource, the total population size of the Song sparrow is 130,000,000 breeding birds. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Song sparrows are most easily confused with Lincoln's sparrow and the Savannah sparrow. The former can be recognized by its shorter, grayer tail and the differently-patterned head, the brown cheeks forming a clear-cut angular patch. The Savannah sparrow has a forked tail and yellowish flecks on the face when seen up close.
  • The Song sparrow derives its name from its colorful repertoire of songs. It was reported that one of the songs heard often in suburban locations closely resembles the opening four notes of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.
  • Song sparrows typically learn their songs from other birds that have neighboring territories. They are most likely to learn songs that are shared between these neighbors and often choose a territory close to or replacing the birds that they have learned from.
  • Song sparrows are able to distinguish neighbors from strangers on the basis of the song; females are also able to distinguish (and prefer) their mate's songs from those of other neighboring birds, and they prefer songs of neighboring birds to those of strangers.
  • Song sparrows have such complex songs that even mockingbirds are not able to effectively imitate their song.
  • Each Song sparrow knows as many as 20 different tunes with as many as 1000 improvised variations on the basic theme; but unlike thrushes, Song sparrows usually repeat the same song many times before switching to a different song.
  • Song sparrows recognize enemies by both instinctual and learned patterns and adjust their future behavior based on both their own experiences in encounters and from watching other birds interact with the enemies.


1. Song Sparrow on Wikipedia -
2. Song Sparrow on The IUCN Red List site -

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